Early Intervention, Early Intervention Clearinghouse

Learning Body Care Routines: Take It a Step at a Time

Very young children need support and opportunities to learn to carry out body care routines. The amount of support they need varies by the child’s age, skill level, and the amount of opportunities they have had to practice a particular skill. They begin learning the routines of body care even when they are young infants.

Caregivers can describe the steps and actions they are taking as they carry out diapering, dressing, and feeding cleanup routines. Saying, “I am wiping your chin with a washcloth to clean the applesauce dribbles” helps a child learn the words and actions associated with a body care routine. As an infant grows older, a caregiver might hand the child the washcloth and encourage him to wipe his own face.

Body care routines are wonderful times to practice skills. Young children use motor skills for manipulating washcloths, toothbrushes, combs, and other body care items. They use their thinking or cognitive skills to remember the steps in the correct order. They use language skills to describe the steps or ask for help. When they learn to do these things independently, they build confidence in their abilities and determination. This enhances their social and emotional development.

Teaching the steps and sequence involved in a body care task and mastering the motor skills to do each step can seem overwhelming job for caregiver. It often seems easier for adults to do these tasks for very young children. However as children grow bigger, it is important to remember that their desire for independence also increases. With planning and consistent effort, even very young children can participate in body care routines.

Your EI team can help you develop strategies to break down body care tasks and adapt them for your child’s ability. There are tools such as adaptive spoons or toothbrushes that can help children who need more motor support. Picture directions with a sequence of steps or teaching the final steps of a routine first and working backward can help you and your child feel a sense of success and be able to say, “You did it! Good job!”

A child does not have to be able to do every step of a body care routine by himself to participate. For example, let’s consider Laura, a 2-year-old who is learning to use a walker.

Her mom and her developmental therapist list out all of the steps in Laura’s handwashing routine at home. They decide who will do each step. Laura cannot climb up on a stepstool to reach the sink, so she will need an adult to help her get onto the stepstool to reach the sink. The faucet is also hard to turn, so mom will do that step for now.

Laura wants to pump the hand soap herself. She still needs some hand over hand help from mom to push the pump. She loves rubbing her hands together to make bubbles, and this is a step she can do by herself. Laura builds independence and confidence when her mom encourages her to try the steps in the process she can do, even though she may not be able to do the whole handwashing routine by herself until she is older.

Take it one step at a time and involve your child in daily care routines. Trying small steps can lead to big gains in independence and skill.

Originally written in collaboration with the EIC  staff for the EIC Newsletter: http://eiclearinghouse.org/newsletter/2017fall/.

 

Steps for Handwashing Who Can Do This?
1. Climb up on the stepstool to the sink Laura, with help
2. Turn on the water Mom
3. Wet your hands Laura
4. Pump soap on your palm Laura, with help
5. Rub hands together to make bubbles Laura
6. Rinse bubbles from hands Laura
7. Turn off the water Mom
8. Dry hands Laura
9. Climb down from stepstool Laura, with help

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